Thursday, August 28, 2008

Haida Gwaii celebrates Grand Opening of Heritage Centre

The celebration has been taking place for most of the year, but this past weekend the Grand Opening finally arrived.

The Daily News provided a preview of what was planned for the official opening of the Haida Heritage Centre, the details of the weekend event were featured as the front page story of last Wednesday`s paper.

The long awaited opening of the Haida Heritage Centre takes place this Saturday
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Pages one and two

This weekend will mark one of the Haida Nation’s largest and most significant celebrations in recent years, as they welcome over 1000 guests to the grand opening of the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate this Saturday.

While the facility has been open to the public since the “soft Opening” in July of 2007, this week marks the official unveiling of new exhibits and works of art to Haida Gwaii residents and visitors from as close as Old Massett and Prince Rupert to as far away as Europe.

Whether those in attendance are Haida, locals or visitors, the 53,000 square foot cedar complex will have many diverse and exciting offerings over the weekend as the cultural celebration gets underway.

Jason Alsop is operation manager for the centre, and said it will be a great relief to finally see years of planning and coordinated efforts come to fruition.

“The whole centre contains Haida culture, works from the past and present, which complete the theme of natural history and environment in our culture and how those two elements interact together,” said Alsop.

:One of the things I’ve rally been excited about for the last year is the canoe landing, because we’ve watched them work on the canoes since the whole logs were dropped off last July.

“We’ve watched all three different crews go through the carving, steaming and designing processes, and now we’re actually going to see them float, so it’s been a very special project watch.”

Two of those three newly carved Haida canoes will remain at the Heritage Centre as part of their vessel fleet.

Another big attraction staff are excited to unveil is a new temporary exhibit at the Haida Gwaii Museum, which will showcase work from contemporary Haida artists, as well as revered works of art from masters like Bill Reid and Emily Carr.

“We’re really excited for this weekend, because it’s been a dream of the community for a long time,” said Nathalie Macfarlane, director of the Haida Gwaii Museum. “The museum is a big contributor in terms of all the work the community has done over the last 30 years to bring together collections of Haida art pieces and totem poles.

“Now to be able to showcase that material and knowledge and make it accessible to people is really what we’re all looking forward to with this new centre.”

The three partnering groups on the project since it was proposed in 1994 have been the Skidegate Band Council, the Haida Gwaii Museum and Parks Canada/ Council of the Haida Nation’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, the latter who provided $6 million in funding to the project.

Dennis Madsen, chief of resource conservation at Gwaii Haanas, said he and the rest of the staff are excited to provide information to visitors about the national park.

“Whether you’re planning on going to Gwaii Haanas or just visiting the Centre, we have displays that talk about the reserve, the things you might see if you travel down there, the intertidal coastal life and everything else,” said Madsen.

“We’re going to be busy on Saturday, involved in all the events and showcasing our exhibits for everyone who makes it out to the grand opening,” said Madsen.

All Haida have been invited to participate in Saturday’s first event, the Haida Clan Parade, where young and old will dress in regalia, drum and march a half kilometer from Jag’s Beanstalk to the Haida Heritage Centre, just in time for the canoe landing on the beach.

The day will then proceed with a welcoming of dignitaries like British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, an opening ceremony and prayer, and the cutting of a cedar roper to mark the official public opening of the whole Centre.

A celebration song and performance by the HlGaagilda Children’s Dance Group will follow, and throughout the afternoon guests will be invited to explore the different areas and exhibits, including a tour of the Centre’s six exterior totem poles, a dance performance by the Old Massett Xaayda Kluu Naay Dancers and the Hltaaxuulang Guid Ad K’aaju dance group of Skidegate.

Another major unveiling will be the Heart of Canada Pole, a project that will permanently reside in the Centre after being worked on by many different people.

“The Heart of Canada Pole was funded by Communications Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and Reg Davidson was selected to carve it in 2003,” said Alsop. “It did a 15 city tour and was at the Canadian Pavillon to bring attention there, and people had a chance to pay money and carve on it.

“Now it’s finished it’s tour and it will be raised for only the second time, permanently in our pole gallery. Reg was here doing some touch0ups on it last week, so we are excited to get that up for everyone to enjoy.”

A large seafood barbeque is planned for 6 p.m., followed by performances of a Haida play entitled Sinxii-gangu (Sounding Gambling Sticks), which debuted last year to much praise and acclaim from audiences.

The center at Kaay Linagaay is a 53,000 square foot cedar multi-complex consisting of five contemporary monumental timber longhouses, and is home to the expanded Haida Gwaii Museum, the Parks Canada Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, additional temporary exhibition space, two meeting rooms/classrooms, the Performing house, Canoe house, Bill Reid Teaching Centre, the Carving Shed, a gift shop and a small restaurant/café.

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